MILWAUKEE — A man suspected of killing seven women in Milwaukee over a 21-year-period has died in South Dakota, where he was serving a life prison sentence.
Walter Ellis, 53, died at a Sioux Falls hospital on Sunday of apparent natural causes, the South Dakota Department of Corrections said in a statement.
A brother of Ellis’ victims told the Associated Press he wished Ellis had served more time before dying.
“God took him away way too soon,” said Terry Williams, whose sister, Joyce Mims, was killed in June 1997.
The state Division of Criminal Investigation was looking into the death and an autopsy was planned, though officials did not immediately know when results would be available, Corrections spokesman Michael Winder said Monday.
Ellis had an “advanced disease” and had been hospitalized since Nov. 26, according to Winder. He did not specify the illness.
Ellis was accused of killing seven women between 1986 and 2007. He pleaded no contest in 2011 in Milwaukee County, Wis., to charges of first-degree intentional homicide and first-degree murder, and was sentenced to life in prison.
Ellis had been held in a South Dakota state prison in Sioux Falls under an interstate compact agreement.
All seven victims were strangled, either by hand or with a rope or piece of clothing tied around their necks. One also was stabbed.
Ellis was arrested in 2009 after police said his DNA matched semen samples found on six victims and a blood sample on a can of pepper spray discovered at the scene of the seventh slaying. Authorities have said they began to focus on Ellis after his name surfaced in connection with a number of unsolved homicides.
Williams, of Madison, said he wishes Ellis would have served the amount of time equal to the age of his first victim. The body of Debra Harris, 31, was found floating in the Menominee River with a handkerchief tied around her neck in 1986.
But Ellis walked free until he was arrested in 2009, Williams said.
“He did not suffer enough for that family,” he said.
Williams said it wasn’t a complete shock that his 41-year-old sister died because she was on the streets living a dangerous lifestyle, but he still mourns her. Building renovators went to a vacant home to perform renovations and found Mims’ body on the second floor.
“It is painful to lose any siblings at the hands of someone else,” he said.
Ellis’ case exposed flaws in Wisconsin’s process for collecting DNA from convicted felons. His DNA was missing from a state database even though he should have submitted a sample during an earlier prison stint. Authorities said Ellis persuaded a fellow inmate to submit a DNA sample in his place.
Police have said that if a sample had been taken from Ellis at that time, they may have been able to track him down before the last slaying.
The interstate compact is used primarily for security reasons, though inmates also can request to serve their time in another state for reasons such as being closer to family, according to Winder. He did not specify the reason Ellis was housed in South Dakota.
Ellis first came to South Dakota in June 2011. He was sent back to Wisconsin in September 2012 for medical reasons and brought back to South Dakota last April, according to Winder.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court declined to hear Ellis’ appeal earlier this year.